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Fionnan Sheahan: Revelations put final nail in coffin of FF election hopes

EVEN the worst day in power is better than the best day in opposition, according to Mary Harney.

But Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore will surely miss weeks like this when they're in government.

The whiff of the leather seats in their ministerial cars is so close they can smell them at this stage.

But before that there's some trouble to stir for the outgoing coalition.

Where to start is the only dilemma for the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

The Government is doing its utmost to ensure the way to Government Buildings is paved with gold for the opposition.

Gradually staggering back from their Christmas break -- in Ms Harney's case via Bangkok and Hong Kong -- the Coalition is showing all the hallmarks of a dying administration, where the situation just constantly goes from bad to worse.

From a shockingly bad base, Taoiseach Brian Cowen's prospects of sparking a pre-election revival took yet another downturn yesterday with revelations of his cosy relationship with disgraced Anglo Irish Bank chief Sean FitzPatrick.

Seanie was able to get Mr Cowen on his mobile phone when the finance minister was on official business on the far side of the world in March 2008 -- of interest to Ms Harney might be that the best hotel in Kuala Lumpur is the Shangri-La.

Seanie and his directors had G&Ts and wine with Mr Cowen in the plush surrounds of Heritage House just before he became Taoiseach in April 2008.

Seanie also played a round of golf and had dinner with Mr Cowen, by now Taoiseach, in the exclusive Druids Glen golf resort in July 2008.

Only months before the near collapse of Anglo Irish Bank, nothing of any interest about the bank's financial affairs was discussed at the directors' dinner or the round of golf.

When Seanie spoke with Mr Cowen about Anglo's diving share price and the dangers associated with Sean Quinn's spread-bet shareholding, the information was merely passed on to the governor of the Central Bank.

No wonder the bank guarantee had to be urgently concocted to save the banking system from the imminent demise of Anglo: either Mr Cowen turned a blind eye to the opportunity to find out what was going on or he was too incompetent to spot the warning signs.

His failure to divulge these contacts undermine his attempts to plead the innocence of the encounters. If Anglo's financial affairs were not discussed, then why not detail the events?

Repeatedly in the Dail and beyond over the past two years, Mr Cowen has been asked about his handling of the Anglo affair and about the directors' dinner.

He chose not to put the other dealings into the public domain. The claims of Fianna Fail ministers yesterday that there was nothing secretive about this meeting were undermined by the fact the contacts were unknown until yesterday when Sean FitzPatrick revealed the interaction -- not the Taoiseach.

Labour Party finance spokeswoman Joan Burton is spot on when she says it is "surely beyond belief that there was no discussion at these encounters of the rapidly deteriorating position of the bank".

"The guarantee of late September 2008 to Anglo Irish Bank has been the direct cause of huge losses imposed on Irish citizens running to more than €34bn to date.

"The public is entitled to a full account of the Taoiseach's state of knowledge of the true position of the bank's balance sheet in the period before that fateful night," she said.

With the clock ticking down to the election, Mr Cowen will be bogged down in questions about this affair for the rest of the week.

The reaction within Fianna Fail to the Taoiseach's travails was telling. His reputation is already destroyed so it can't get any worse.

It's hard to put a nail in a political coffin that is already long buried under the ground.

Fianna Fail TDs will mutter about the leadership but ultimately know it's too late to save the day. Ministers and TDs alike are too busy trying to save their own necks to bother about the party.

A heave against Mr Cowen or his resignation as party leader would be too little, too late.

Nothing can be ruled out though as a desperate party seeks to salvage something from a desolate electoral landscape.

The Green Party will also huff and puff about Mr Cowen's inadequate disclosures over the coming days. But ultimately the junior coalition partners are unlikely to want to pull out of Government over something the public knows already: Mr Cowen and Fianna Fail were cosy with bankers.

Greens leader John Gormley is already stretching his timeline for a General Election into March and needs to pack in a host of legislation to justify his party's existence before time runs out.

In any other week, Ms Harney would deservedly be the ministerial figure most under the spotlight. Only three months away from the presumed end of her political career, she chose to leave the health service devoid of political leadership or accountability in a period where it would be predictably under pressure.

This dying Government is determined to end its days ignominiously.

Irish Independent